The Practice of Attending to our Emotions and Regulating
We can practice attention and emotion regulation using a few simple steps:
Stop – A very simple and powerful thing to do is to stop and breathe. Disengage from destructive and draining thought processes. If you are ruminating, as in cycling over and over a thought, or upset, or if your stomach hurts, no matter what is going on with you, just stop and take a breath. You don’t have to stop moving. Often deliberately moving your body helps slow your mind. For example, sometimes going for a walk outside provides a stop if you are able to pay attention to your thoughts and your body while doing so. It may mean moving to a quiet place and focusing on your breath so that you are able to observe your body and emotions. Or, it may be simply taking 30 seconds to stop where you are and reflect on the bigger picture.
Tune into your body and what you are feeling physically – scan the body for areas of tension. Notice if you are feeling nauseous, if you are perspiring, if your head aches, if you are breathing more quickly, or if your jaw is clenched. Don’t judge, just observe.
Name the emotion – Consider all those physical experiences and reflect upon what emotions you are experiencing – this might be hard at first, especially if you aren’t used to allowing yourself to feel certain emotions like sadness or anger. Giving emotions a name, without judgment, is a very powerful path toward resilience. If you don’t have a name for a feeling, imagine an emoji.
Don’t judge yourself for having that emotion – God gave us the capacity to have the full range of emotions. We don’t get to enjoy the heights of the good ones without the capacity of the depths of the heavy ones. As humans, we feel what we feel. Our emotions are sign-posts to what matters to us.
Consider the context – What is happening right now? How might the feelings connect to old wounds? Try to name what it is about the present situation that is bringing up the physical and emotional responses. Try and clarify how wounds of the past might bias how you respond and feel in the moment. Attempt to gain clarity on the significance of the present situation, but try to separate it from past experiences.
Consider the next steps you might take in the situation. What feels healthy for you and the people you care about. What is needed for this particular situation, to solve a problem, to get support, or to gain new perspective? Do you need to talk with someone about what you’ve discovered? Do you need to journal? How might the insight you have gained propel you toward some action? Can you take steps to address something in your community? The goal is to intentionally respond, not automatically react.
Repeat – Practice reminding yourself to “respond, not react” throughout your day. Identify strategies of regulating and reflecting that create the necessary space for you to respond, not react. Maybe it’s something like Stop. Tune in. Name. Don’t judge. Consider (context and wound). Respond.